Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Rules of Attraction

I hope that the students at my son’s new school or NYU (although NYU is referenced in the book) are nothing like the experiences in the first person voice of The Rules of Attraction by Bret Easton Ellis.  The book was written right at the time I was in college and heck, I don’t remember stories like the ones written by Ellis, though I am sure they exist.  Ellis shares the college experience at a fictitious college “Camden College” (a liberal arts college) in the Northeast.  Hmm what school could it be, the author went to Bennington??? The main characters are sexually active and the reader is left wondering whether each one has sex with each or is it in the mind of one or two of them?  Male on male, male on female, etc.  Throw in some drugs, yes, even a drug dealer who is hunting for his money from one of the main characters, and you have one messed up college.  Between the sex, the drugs, and the self-destructive behavior (yes, even suicide) you have a bad college scene.  1987? Could be 2010.  Talking to some of my colleagues on the book, yes, it happens, but this story line is pretty overdone.  The twist is the first-person story telling.  Ellis is well known for other books, Less Than Zero (another RA favorite) and American Psycho.  50 years from now this might be a great period piece and seen as the 1980s' Catcher in the Rye... well maybe not as big as that, but it will get some play.  Worth a read. 

Sunday, August 22, 2010


How weird, two Pulitzer Prize novels in a row. Reviewed the entire list of Pulitzer Prize winners (prior to 1947: and the list for after 1947, changed title to Fiction: How many have you read? Well today’s book, Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, started off really liking the concept, a dying man leaving a story of his life to his son and wife. The intro began with an overview of the life of his father and grandfather and their families. OK. But then, that seemed to be the book with lots of references to the Bible throughout, makes sense as grandfather, father, and son were all preachers; throw in an obscure neighbor’s son who has returned to town after his time as the “problem kid” and the secret of his time away. Makes for a compelling story when the dying man thinks the neighbor’s son may be after his wife, well kind of I guess (playing ball with the preacher’s son and spending time with the wife). I don’t know, didn’t do it for me. Slow read, I mean SLOW. Never got interesting, except the secret life being revealed… Maybe if I was the son of a preacher it would have hit home. While the language was beautiful and the references to the Bible were spot on, I was missing some of the connections and the characters never spoke to me. I was not pulled into his life nor his struggles. I promise my kids I won’t leave this type of tell-all “sermon” to them. Surprised that this book was awarded a Pulitzer, truly surprised. Take a pass on this one. Slow read and hard to connect…

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Executioner's Song

The debate continues…. In The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer, the reader is provided a real life story of Gary Gilmore and his impending execution, which raises the debate for capital punishment or not.  The book is divided into the story from his early juvenile delinquencies to his release from prison and first murders that he committed.  The story is based on all first-hand accounts from family and witnesses.  It gets the emotional real life feelings from those directly involved in the events up to and including the murder.  The second half is the compelling story of Gary’s decision to accept his death and his lawyer fighting to save him.  In the end, Gilmore is shot to death after a few appeals kept a “stay” on his execution.  The book was awarded a Pulitzer Prize after its release.  For me, the book did bring to the forefront the debate on c.p., but I wasn’t a huge fan of it.  While I think the issue is a central issue in our society as to how we view human life (both the deceased and the murderer), I was less interested in the first half of the story of Gilmore and his, I would say, tragic upbringing.  Clearly anger, rage, and hate, are “cultivated” in large part by how a child is exposed or even the victim, as was Gilmore, in this senseless but cyclical treatment.  Child abuse is at the core of this story and more should be done to help teach parents and adults the significant impact of such behavior.  When I think of the various books I have read on the issue, it is interesting to note how some, such as Uzodinma Iweala, were able to LEAVE that behavior behind, yet someone like Gilmore only continues the cycle of aggression.  What makes one not behave like that and another person “do on to others” as they have done on to him?  While it earned high marks, a “not so much read” for me.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Lords of Discipline

I was brought back to my high school roots for today’s book, well sort of… The Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy.  You see, I attended a military (Catholic) high school.  No, it wasn't a boarding school and no, we really didn’t have hazing like the group of 10! The book is divided into 4 sections which begins with being a plebe, for those who don’t know what that is, not a fun time in one’s high school life, especially in the military (it means the bottom of the ‘totem pole’).   The protagonist is placed at a military school in Carolina during his senior year, flashes back to his hellish first year, back to how he is faced with the challenge of racism and support of the first African American student attending the institute and what role he is forced to play with the student.  The last section has Will McLean battling against the mysterious ten.  It is always interesting to me how the military stories always seem to focus on the “code red” type of underground secrets.  Conroy brings me back to some of my own funny experiences in high school, but not at all like the ones portrayed in his novel.  Nonetheless, it is a trip down memory lane with guys into the military and the crazy things they did to “protect the flag” and the silly things those who were anti-military did, making drum noises during the Star Spangled Banner.  I remember the time we were in an all day military event.  Two kids fainted when we had to stand at attention for like 75 minutes.  Hey, we were in 9th grade.  I think it was on the border of child abuse, thanks Colonel Reese.  So where do you think I landed in the military rank?  Out of 99 cadets in my class where did I rank?  Closest guess gets a free gift card!  Send in your guesses now, or comment below.  Not a bad book, had special memories for me, so I recommend it.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Wherever You Go, There You Are

The art of desensitizing ourselves to all that brings us down, how uplifting, huh?  The “self-help books” are somewhat of genre that surprises me our students have turned to as favorites.  I don’t think I was that stressed at 19-20.  Well, the book Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn (wonder if any relation to Howard Zinn, the re-telling of history buff who was responsible for NYU’s Portraits program) was actually a good and helpful read.  As a life-coach, yes I think I have plugged this once or twice before, I am always looking for new ways to think through the process of how we think and how to clear our minds for meeting our goals.  Kabat-Zinn has years of experience through his work at the “stress clinic” in MA.  The overview of the Buddhist preparation for one’s day and the steps on how to approach “cleansing the mind” are all appropriate and helpful.  Biographies and self-help are two categories that usually surprise me that someone would be so inclined to rank so highly.  Oh well.  The book is fairly detailed and if you want to start your own “On Walden Pond” experience, which he refers to quite often in the book, this is the one for you.   I guess I don’t do a great job of cycling these books in an order that might make sense, though I would say Gregor’s family from The Metamorphosis probably could have benefitted from reading this book.  They certainly would have noticed poor Grete’s beauty long before, and probably would not have fretted with Gregor’s drastic change.  For me, the book was fine, but it would not be on a top 200 list for me.  For those who need the ten step program, go get it.  I think I paid $0.28 for this book on

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Metamorphosis

I did not expect the book I read to be anything like it was… with that, I really enjoyed Kafka’s The Metamorphosis.   Having read, and thoroughly enjoyed, his book The Trial, I was not expecting this!  But if you really think about a metamorphosis, and what it signifies, this would do it.  When your family relies on you too much (hear this, Christian and Alex – my kids), Dad could transform just like Gregor did in the novel.  When the family becomes self-reliant then poor Gregor is no longer needed and guess what, he transforms back.  Kafka is brilliant.  The story has many levels and I am sure I missed some of them.  The traveling salesman who becomes a “bug” and hissed away, like many salesman do, and like the traveling salesman of yesteryear, they have evaporated, “shriveled away” (I’m being dramatic here!), just like our friend Gregor.  I thought the ending was great.  Poor sister Grete doing the family work and finally her parents realize how beautiful she has matured.   Being captured in a cocoon with no escape, similar theme to that in The Trial (which I listened to on books on tape – a great listen! while Kindling this one).  The translation on both books were well done.  How I would NOT like to be a translator.  Put this one high on the list.  Makes you think how we “use” our family when we need them, and disregard when they become a burden.  I hope we all ponder that one for awhile.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Slouching Towards Bethlehem

The series of short stories... how does an author put them together?  Is there a “through-line” of sorts that connect them to “fit” nicely together?  Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem does meet my particular criterion for them to make “sense” to me.  There are three parts to the book. In part one, Lifestyles in the Golden  Land  (referring to stories of people and places during the 1960s in California  *as a side note, I often make fun of Cali or the Left Coast, a state I have never visited), Didion shares stories that capture the culture of the time and the carefree and “star struck” nature of the area.  From the drug using teens to John Wayne, all give a particular flavor that Didion tried to understand and write about.  The second grouping of stories, the Personals (not my favorite), provided values and perspectives on morality to self-respect.  Finally, the third section, Seven Places of the Mind (my personal favorite!), gave brief glimpses into the feel of American cities/places, such as Hawaii, LA, Alcatraz, and NYC!  I also enjoyed reading on people’s perspectives of the city I have called home for 9 years TODAY, yes it is my anniversary of the date I came to NYC – coincidence? Take a read at the Celestine Prophecy (one of the RA Favorite books). Joan had it right.  It is a city that you wake up one day and you say, I have been here 9 years (same amount of time she lived there --- does that mean something for me soon?), and you realize you are tired and ready for something different.  She gave a 1960s view into Madison Avenue, the way it feels to walk across 62nd Street to the Park (if you live in NYC you know what park I am referring), the food in the West Village, or the crowds in Times Square.  Do things really change?  Didion’s language is colorful and her view into the life of the time was refreshing.  I tend to like social-science books that delve into the life of the day.  These are true stories/ reflections, so for those looking for a bit more fiction, this is not your read.  Thumbs up for me!  

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Awakening

The Awakening by Kate Chopin is set partly in Grande Island off the coast of New Orleans, LA. Where the main character, Edna  Pontellier (a married woman), begins a metamorphosis of sorts during her summer vacation when she meets Robert LeBrun, a younger single man who stirs a new energy in her through dialogue and attention she seemingly never received from her successful businessman husband.  It is always interesting to see how the “well t'do” 1900s families always have time for spending money and finding ways to get themselves in trouble.  I’m sure in its day this book was ripped off the shelves, a married woman having trysts with young bachelors.  But compared to today’s standards, pretty low bar story.  The ho-hum dinner parties and morning breakfasts with a second would-be “gentleman caller” makes Mrs. (should I even call her that?) Pontellier a wayward woman!  The transformation of Edna is compelling as her artistic side begins to develop as her new found sensuality is heightened.  The swimming motif climaxes in what we believe is her death, though one never knows…  well written, but for me there are other “coming of age,” “not putting up with a man who pays no attention to me” story that get a bigger thumbs up.  Quick read, and yes first Kindle read book!  If you ever thought about getting one, you should.  Love seeing how far to go in the book.  Back burner book, no need to jump it up on your list.

Friday, August 13, 2010


A departure from the books I have read of late called Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi .  A French animation book, but translated to French.  My son’s girlfriend is reading it for her “freshman read” this year at Wheaton College (yes, the one that Ann Curry had her snafu! See:  So she suggested I read it sooner than later.  Glad I did.  It is a “comics” style book that tells the story of the author’s growing up (yes, an autobiography!) in Iran during the Islamic revolution.  It is drawn in black and white and illustrates a woman’s view of losing her own ownership in the country and how it is changed by a male dominated culture.  I enjoyed the perspective of a youth during a change in political power and how influenced children are by outside forces.  She makes political statements in opposition to those of her parents until she learns how the current regime has captured her own relatives.  We learn through the growing up process the downfall of the Shah of Iran and the beginning of the Iran/Iraq war. Marjane, the author, grows up during the course of the story and experiences life outside as a means of survival of Iran and then returns to experience a very different life. 

This was very different type of read and I did enjoy the style of an adult version “comic book” story.  I’d say a good read, not a must read.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Travels with Charley

When I first saw I would be reading John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, I thought it would be another novel with picturesque backgrounds, complicated characters, and some major twists in the story development.  What I got instead was a major surprise, a “travelogue” as it is commonly labeled.  So what is a travelogue? Well, Steinbeck decided to search for America, really the people of America.   He and his French poodle went from Long Island to California and back (the southern route).  Set in the 1960s, Steinbeck searches to find the culture of each part of the states and to address his restless heart.  Isn’t it funny how all of us think there is another place that is so much better than where we currently reside.  We are such a restless people.  During his search, Steinbeck finds over and over again, people who ask him, “Where are you going?” and “Lord, I wish I could go” and he declares, “you don’t even know where I am going,”  and what he hears over and over again, “I don’t care.  I’d like to go anywhere….”  And so it goes.  We are all looking for something better, but will we ever get there?  We are so busy looking for a better place, that we just miss the present – a place that in fact may possibly be the best place we could ever be.  I often meet with RAs and ask them about their dreams.  Most mention traveling to a specific exotic city or even a place they have heard from others as “the place to be."  A few times I will hear, “I kinda like where I am now and don’t think of a better place” (or something like that).  In those moments I sit in awe, wow, this person is so self-aware and really enjoying life.  How I wish I could be there.  Really it isn’t a location, it’s a state of mind that one has in determining that place in this journey of life that we realize what we have.  I hope that all of you reading this can realize where you are today is where you should be.  Once we open our minds to that, our journeys are much more rich.  Steinbeck’s books take me places.  I really wasn’t expecting this book to have me think so deeply.  Maybe it’s my own journey with a dog, not a French poodle.  When I walk him from here on out, I’ll often think of what he is thinking, similar to Steinbeck’s Charley. 

How the US cultures differ, from North to South and East to West.  While Steinbeck’s descriptions match stereotypes I have often heard, it does make one think how different we are as a country, yet bound together by our forefathers.  Wish he spent a bit more time discussing our brothers from the Northeast. 

A very good read, highly recommend.  I’m on a roll with some class A books!  Thanks RAs.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Just finished reading the second book which I have read in tandem with Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Roots by Alex Haley.  What a great companion book to UTC.  The story was the biography following the life of Kunta Kinte and the generations that followed;  the struggle to survive a horrific time in US history, the era of slavery.  The story came from the oral history of seven generations of Haleys. It was one man’s desire to find his family heritage following the stories told by aunts, grandparents, and parents.  It took Haley 12 years to finish his research going through archives, interviews, and reliving stories he had been told.  What a wonderful thing for parents to share their heritage with their children.  It reminds me of the stories my mom shares with me and her grandchildren about her upbringing.  Haley’s style of storytelling reminds me much of the approach and level of detail of my own mother.  I guess when you love the heritage it shows in the feelings that are conveyed in each of the characters.  From Chicken George (my favorite) to Kizzy Reynolds, and Tom Murray each one is vividly described as is their own challenges.  Haley’s family is fortunate that Alex was able to tell this story, and so will you be.  This is a must read, completely riveting and will keep you interested and wanting to know what happens to each character. No wonder why Haley and his extended family were so successful in life with a lineage that we learn to love.  An all-time best-selling book which deserves to be read.  It reads pretty well, but it is long, but again, worth it.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Uncle Tom's Cabin

Sorry it has been awhile since I have had an entry.  Reading has been tough, good books, but long.  At the current time I have been reading two different books on a similar topic, slavery.  Both books are well known, and worth reading.  Today I’ll speak about the book I just finished, Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe.  This classic is a must read as it is a wonderful story of its time.  Stowe has eloquently and bluntly captured a horrific story of the slave industry.  She has also personalized it with her own religious convictions, which underscore her own reasons why slavery is unthinkable in the society of her day (and I would say any day!).   The other book I am reading is a book that chronicles the life of a family that is brought into slavery (more on that when I finish!).  

The character of Tom is the most endearing character.  His commitment to his master, but more importantly his God gets him through the trials of being torn away from his loved ones.  For him to be so close to freedom (his master dies before he has the chance to put in writing) and the evil family member left behind sells Tom to Simon Legree (the quintessential evil slave owner) who tortures Tom in his attempt to tear him away from his religion.  In the end, Stowe shows that people “get what is coming to them!”  Stowe’s work comes from an abolitionist point of view and was hailed by President Lincoln as a force supporting his claim to end slavery.  While at times the writing “dripped” (fits nicely with the style I’m writing about) with melodramatic tones, it fits for the time.  Some of the southern writing can be hard to read, it gives it the flavor of moment.  I appreciated the Christian theme of forgiveness and commitment to faith, while others may find it too preachy, depends on your perspective.

There are some unintended stereotypes that are created through the book for Black Americans.  The lasting stereotypes are certainly not what Ms. Stowe had in mind.  This for me serves as proof how influential the book was in its day and still remains.  I hope all have a chance to read this book as if we don’t pay attention to the past, it certainly could repeat itself, through the introduction of another ethnic group in entering a new country or even another type of people (religious, etc.).  Stowe painted a picture of a time that I hope no society will ever repeat.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Pathology of Power

I feel like I just finished watching a "60 Minutes" episode after reading The Pathology of Power. Clearly the RA who suggested this must be a Poly Sci major.  The first half of the book outlined the fraud that has occurred within the Government related to monies spent on Defense of our country and how it was misspent. The book also covered the bombing of Hiroshima and the aftermath.  The author, Norman Cousins, spent significant time visiting and attempting to assist with the rebuild of Hiroshima.  Learning about Truman’s mistakes and General Patton’s desire for a peaceful response, and Eisenhower’s follow through as President after the bombing was like a walk back through US History.  Cousins book chronicled the poor decision making of Vietnam and the Cold War, to the whistle blowers who worked at the ammunitions company who have clearly played a role in enhancing war.  This was a great 1940-1986 overview on how people in our world, (those who are in elected positions) have an obligation to use the data they have to avert war and not continue to build more and more walls (and bombs) to annihilate our society.  I suggested my son read this book as he is taking US History this fall.  A far cry from the stories I have been reading.  Perfect timing.  Cousins, the editor for the Saturday Evening Post, provided a really nice perspective on a time of instability, risk playing, and technology to enable us to be better all converging.

Monday, August 2, 2010


A very interesting way to write a book by Daniel Handler, Adverbs (it’s the name of the book).  A series of short stories about love and the way he categorizes the stories is by naming each story by an adverb.  Each story has some of the same characters in it, but it gets a bit confusing to be honest when Jack and Helena are in one story and in love, yet fighting about another person’s love or thoughts on it at the same time.  A few of the chapters stood out more than others.  The taxi cab driver starts and ends the book, driving to the dive bar – isn’t that how some love stories begin (over a drink) or end?  There is a story from me on that one, but it will be for another day J.  I didn't realize that people from SF, Cali call it San Fran?  Hmm.  Can you believe that is one of the very few states I have never visited?  While everyone says what a great place it is, I have mixed feelings about going there.  Nothing against the people I have met from Cali, most all come to NY knowing it’s a better place to be (got you left coasters!) but again I haven’t visited so not sure I can accurately state which is better.  I do know the weather in San Diego is really intriguing!  Talking of weather, a bust yesterday for sure.  Hoping my last day of vacation for this group of days off will get better.  Back to the book. The writing was well done.  He includes some nice engaging views on the various aspects of love.  There are a few stories that are pretty out there.  Like the one with the cameraman and the writer who engage in sex at the writer’s relatives house in the dessert.  I guess that was not the “true” love story, huh?  If you can get through the fact that this is not a linear book you might like it.  Much better than the short stories from Fuentes that I read last week.  Middle of the road for me, certainly not a bad one for sure.  

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Harold and Maude

This time a play… Harold and Maude.  You know, a great little story. Was only on Broadway for a short run, but heck, some really good audition pieces in this one for anyone look for some dark humor, young man meets older woman for love, or just a nice piece for mom/son banter.  I can see why the drama Tisch majors would like this play (A great part for an older woman too – hey Judy Edwards, put on your drama shoes.  Wish I was young enough to play Harold.).  I love the idea of a rich pampered kid who finds the meaning of love through a seventy-nine year old woman who lives life through a “live every minute” attitude.  Only one thing I didn’t get is why the day she turns eighty (spoiler alert - don’t read the rest if you want to hear the ending…..), the day the two get married, would she want to kill herself.  Hmm… so she teaches him to stop being concerned with death and then goes and kills herself.  Otherwise the meaning stuck out to me immensely.  As a personal coach (yes, a plug, sorry), we assist folks to find meaning, just as Maude did for Harold, and go out there and live it.  Maybe I’ll find this play somewhere off Broadway or in community theatre sometime.